When I decided to get tattooed in all fifty states, I scheduled Missouri, Indiana, and Michigan immediately because they are neighboring states and easy to get to by public ground transportation for a quick and dirty day trip. The Michigan tattoo, however, proved to be really hard to schedule. I initially thought I would get a tattoo in Detroit, even though I was advised against it because it’s such a dangerous city. What eventually caused me to veer away from the idea was that I could not find a decent shop or artist in Detroit. Either the shops had already gone out of business, or they just did some really awful, amateur-looking work.
I then found a shop in Ann Arbor called Lucky Monkey Tattoo run by a self-proclaimed “award winning rocker and entrepreneur” who was really short with me when I emailed her to make an appointment. She insisted that I come in for a consultation first and didn’t care that I would be traveling from Chicago and would not want to make an extra trip all the way there for a ten minute consultation. The artists in her shop are excellent and I’m sure they would have been able to draw something up for me on the spot, as a lot of tattoo artists do anyway, even if you make an appointment months in advance. There was a train going to Kalamazoo, but it didn’t have any good shops either. I was ready to give up and get something really small and simple in Detroit, until my coworker suggested Grand Rapids because she had a friend from there who had some tattoos.
There was a Greyhound bus that went to Grand Rapids making for an easy trip in, so I did some research and found a shop and an artist that would suit my design needs. I emailed the artist and she readily accepted my idea with some suggested changes to suit her personal style, and we made an appointment. It was my first time taking the Greyhound and I was a bit nervous about it because any cheap transportation lends to vagrants and I didn’t want to be sitting with a bunch of crazy people for the four hour trip there. Getting on the bus was a somewhat disorganized procedure, as there was only one sign posted indicating which door I might possibly be exiting and the woman on the loudspeaker announcing the bus departure doors was very hard to understand.
The bus ride was pretty uneventful and I dozed most of the way, waking up to do a quick transfer in Kalamazoo. I walked over to the shop, Wealthy Street Tattoo, immediately after the bus arrived, even though I would be an hour early. I met the artist, Miranda Brouwer, and she showed me the design. I had been unsure of her intended departure from the tattoo images I gave as examples, which were photorealistic, whereas she wanted to do more linework, but I accepted her suggestions considering that I preferred my lined tattoos over my photorealistic hibiscus. When I saw Miranda’s drawing, I immediately fell in love with the design without any hesitation and I knew everything was going to be okay. Moments like that are rare for me on my tattoo journey and those are the ones I travel for. There was another appointment before mine, but the girl never showed, so I was able to get in half an hour early.
The design I chose for my Michigan tattoo was a burning candle. My immediate response to the state of Michigan was a memory of a guy from Livonia, Michigan, whom I met when he visited my college town over Labor Day weekend. We had an instant connection and a very fun night together, which ended at my apartment. My roommate, who was away that weekend, had a strange obsession with candles, and for some reason, we lit every one of them that night. And then one thing led to another, as things do, and that was the night I lost my virginity. It was a good memory, and one I decided to commemorate by getting a lit candle tattoo. I decided to place it in my right elbow ditch, because I wanted a glowing candle in a dark background to offset the overly light hibiscus tattoo in my other ditch.
Miranda had to tweak a couple of elements in the image, like the candle holder and shape of the dripping wax to fit the available space on my arm, and the resulting design suited the spot perfectly, the wax dripping down between two other existing tattoos. Miranda likes dotwork and rather than filling in the background with a lot of black shading, she used dots to create a pointillism gradient with the effect of a lit dark background. She also added a touch of orange-red to the candle flame to highlight it even more. I was prepared for the pain of the ditch, having already had one done, and this experience hurt much less. In Puerto Rico, I opted to not use lidocaine to numb the spot before the artist added in the white highlights, but Miranda insisted on spraying Bactine to numb up the area. I accepted it because she said it would bring the swelling down making it easier for her to tattoo and would expedite the healing process. It was strange, however, to have ten minutes of tattooing where I didn’t feel the needle at all, and I have to say that I didn’t like it. I don’t like having a numb body part anyway, but I also think that tattoos should be earned and feeling the pain is a major part of the process.
During the tattoo session, I told Miranda about my blog and the other places and artists I would be visiting. She knew a couple of the artists I mentioned, and it made me feel good about my research skills knowing that I had chosen quality shops and artists. We chatted easily and I even joined her outside when she went out for a smoke, which was a first. Normally I just sit in the shop and play around on my phone while the artists take their breaks. Afterwards, Miranda put some witch hazel on the tattoo, another first, which was supposed to relieve swelling and encourage faster healing. Considering how much my first ditch tattoo swelled and how long it took to heal, I welcomed any remedies to avoid a repeat of that experience. And considering how easily the tattoo ended up healing, I believe that whatever Miranda did worked!
After my tattoo, I had a couple of hours to kill before my bus ride back and as far as I could tell, there was nothing much to see in Grand Rapids, so I decided to drink instead and experience why Grand Rapids is known as one of the best beer towns in the USA. Luckily, Founders Brewing was situated right next to the Greyhound station so I could sit and drink and stumble my way over to the bus. But then I met a Founders bar-back after his shift and after trying a couple more beers that he recommended, we did a quick little barhop over to Stella’s Lounge and The Pyramid Scheme before my bus ride. With my belly full of quickly-downed beers, the bus ride was not a happy one and I was relieved that we stopped for dinner at McDonald’s on the way. I ate half of their value menu and had a lovely snooze on the way home.
Having met some really good people, I discovered that Grand Rapids was not a bad place to visit, and I would certainly go back to Founders to drink again, if the opportunity came about. I love my Michigan tattoo as well, with Miranda’s painstakingly-placed dots, the orangey-red glow of the candle, and the perfectly-positioned wax drips to fill in an empty space between tattoos. My right arm is filling up nicely and I’m looking forward to crossing more states off of my list.